Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized the U.S. decision to pull out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. President Bush announced the U.S. withdrawal earlier Thursday, paving the way for development of an American missile defense system. President Putin also called again for cuts in nuclear weapons stockpiles.
A "mistake" was how Mr. Putin described the U.S. move to pull out of the 30 year old ABM treaty. In a brief television address to the Russian people, President Putin said the treaty did allow each country to pull out under exceptional circumstances. But he questioned the wisdom of such a move.
Mr. Putin said the U.S. decision did not come as a surprise, but noted Russia had done all it could to save the treaty, which he said was the right thing to do. The Russian president said the treaty was the foundation for disarmament and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Putin also emphasized that President Bush's decision would in no way compromise Russian security. He said Russia has an effective nuclear weapons system that could overcome any missile shield created by the United States.
In addition to his comments about the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty, the Russian president also discussed plans for further cuts in U.S. Russian nuclear weapons stockpiles.
Mr. Putin proposed reducing the number of each country's nuclear warheads to between 1,500 and 2,200.
This figure is similar to one proposed by President Bush when the two leaders met in Crawford, Texas last month.
The U.S. decision to withdraw from the ABM treaty is no surprise to Russians. Ever since the Bush administration came into office earlier this year, administration officials have made no secret of their belief that the treaty was outdated. U.S. officials also said the arms control agreement would prevent the United States from developing a national missile defense shield, something U.S. officials said is necessary to protect America from nuclear attacks by so-called rogue nations such as Iraq.
Under the treaty, each side must give the other six months notice if it is going to withdraw.